Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson (novel review)

How do I find these books? Another 527 pages!

I only knew people had been talking about this book, that it was a best seller, and that it was well written--that's all I knew, and even that was sort of a peripheral knowing. I got the Kindle version and it's been sitting waiting for me for months now.

I can't wait to read a book I'm excited about. This isn't it. True, UK writer Atkinson knows how to write, she does it all the time. See her website for plenty of proof.

One has to think she's bored after all these books that have beginnings, middles and endings. Because Life After Life has none of that. It's loosely (and I use the word loosely loosely) based on a protagonist, Ursula Todd, who dies and is reborn repeatedly throughout the myriad pages, only to live a slightly different life and have another death, and be born again. Just as a story begins to develop, Atkinson knocks her off (sometimes in only a couple of pages time) and starts over. Ursula's family members, domestic servants (cook and nanny) and parental country estate ("Fox Corner") remain the same, with variations on the paths the family takes in each reincarnation of Ursula's lives. But one could get dizzy trying to keep up with Ursula herself.

To Atkinson's credit, there are some wonderful passages describing London during the Blitz (the horrors, the hideous tragedies), and the anguish of a marriage to a wife-beater. But apart from isolated sections that invite the reader to feel something, there are miles of terrain of clever dialogue, family chit chat, gossip and English banter (some with great humor) that seems to be merely an entertainment for the author, and result in much less so for the reader. Indulgent~ ! Even excellent writing can't inject meaning into "pots and pans" daily life or save us from banality. Be it deja vu or not.

The most interesting premise of this book which I wish had been its core and fleshed out as a novel in itself was that if Hitler had been assassinated early in his career (one of the things Ursula does in one of her lives, and is instantly shot by Nazis) how the world might have/would have been different. This is only touched on and speculated about however and is never developed in this book.

I wish I had the time and money back that I wasted on this novel. Otherwise, I couldn't care less about it.



  1. I didn't even bother with this one, and yet I read every one of her detective series, which are literary but not haute literary. With a plot such as all the 'what ifs' that can happen to a person, where is the investment in the characters themselves? I don't want to be led down one road, only to have a 'let's begin again' reach out for me when I'm not looking. More like meta-fiction than the explication of a life.

  2. Exactly! But apparently she just had to do it?